UK heatwave ‘made ten times more likely by climate change’ may have caused hundreds of deaths

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The scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington, sparked by the heatwave  (Yui Mok/PA)
The scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington, sparked by the heatwave (Yui Mok/PA)

Hundreds of people may have died in last week's record-breaking heatwave in the UK which, a study has suggested, was made ten times more likely by climate change.

Although official figures are yet to emerge, the World Weather Attribution group has provided a warning that such events could be more likely in the future. A rapid analysis shows 840 more people than average died on July 18 and 19.

A new UK record temperature of 40.3C was set while the heat caused transport disruption and fires, including blazes that destroyed homes.

Temperatures recorded would have been "statistically impossible" if the world hadn't warmed by about 1.2C since the late 1800s - the report said. The research claimed that if it had not been for climate change, the days would have been at least 2C cooler.

UK Weather: Summer Heatwave 2022

]A young girl rides her inflatable pelican in the sea at Fistral Beach (Getty Images)
]A young girl rides her inflatable pelican in the sea at Fistral Beach (Getty Images)
Sunrise  over London (Jeremy Selwyn)
Sunrise over London (Jeremy Selwyn)
A man cools off in a fountain during the hot weather in London (REUTERS)
A man cools off in a fountain during the hot weather in London (REUTERS)
scorchedsummer22a: People look out toward the Old Royal Naval College, and the Canary Wharf financial district, past the sun-scorched grass in Greenwich Park, south east London (AFP via Getty Images)
scorchedsummer22a: People look out toward the Old Royal Naval College, and the Canary Wharf financial district, past the sun-scorched grass in Greenwich Park, south east London (AFP via Getty Images)
People enjoy the hot weather at Hathersage open air swimming pool at Hope Valley, near Sheffield (PA)
People enjoy the hot weather at Hathersage open air swimming pool at Hope Valley, near Sheffield (PA)
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the fishing village of Mousehole in Penzance, Cornwal (PA)
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the fishing village of Mousehole in Penzance, Cornwal (PA)
Three swimmers pictured keeping cool with a swim at Beckenham Place Park, Kent (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Three swimmers pictured keeping cool with a swim at Beckenham Place Park, Kent (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
People take pictures of the sunset from Greenwich Park (REUTERS)
People take pictures of the sunset from Greenwich Park (REUTERS)
Dry fields of grassland near Perranporth, Cornwall (PA)
Dry fields of grassland near Perranporth, Cornwall (PA)
A police officer poring water water on a police horse on Whitehall (PA)
A police officer poring water water on a police horse on Whitehall (PA)
People jump into the sea at Brighton, (AFP via Getty Images)
People jump into the sea at Brighton, (AFP via Getty Images)

Friederike Otto, senior climate science lecturer at Imperial College London - who was part of the study - said that while fires burned across Europe, the UK made for a worrying case study.

“[The UK is] particularly unaccustomed to very high temperatures as the ones that we have seen last week,” she said as to why the country was studied.

She told the BBC: “We would not have had last week's temperatures without climate change, that's for sure.”

The attribution group, a collection of scientists studying weather and climate, said the world has warmed by about 1.1C since the industrial revolution. Dr Otto said that such temperatures were still extraordinary, even in today’s climate, but predicted global warming would make extreme weather a more regular occurrence.

She added: “Because we know very well how many greenhouse gases have been put into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we can take these things out of the model and simulate a world that might have been without climate change.”

The groups warned that the UK must reach net zero - a state where carbon emissions are completely offset - “very soon” if such heatwaves are to continue to be a rare event.

The government has plans in place to reach net zero by the year 2050.

At the announcement of the net zero strategy, Boris Johnson said: “Through our Ten Point Plan we have already attracted over £5.8 billion of new inward investment in just over ten months, and will create and support hundreds of thousands of new high skilled, high wage green jobs.

“Removing dirty fossil fuels from the global economy will lead to the creation of vast new global industries from offshore wind to electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage.”

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